‘When I arrived, there were a few raised eyebrows. It was a shaky beginning. At the start, there was a lack of trust. Many of the players who had played under the previous Manager, soon wanted to drop down to the second team, so I let them: They want to come back now!’
Laura Kaminski is not only one of the few female football college coaches working as the Manager of the college’s men’s first team. She’s possibly one of the few female football Managers working with male teams in the UK full stop.
Women coaching men in football is pretty much non-existent. Laura offers some explanations as to why this is the case, pointing mainly to male perceptions, pathways and opportunities, but doesn’t necessarily agree with them. Not a fan of female only courses, Laura understands the potential benefits, but equally sees their limitations and how they can keep participants in a safe, but unrealistic bubble, which when left, can be a shock that may see them leave the men’s game and not come back. Her notion that you wouldn’t run a female only BTEC Business course, so why would you run a female only coaching course? Offers plenty of food for thought. She genuinely doesn’t understand what gender has to do with anyone’s ability to coach.
‘When I came for the position at Uxbridge College, I was interviewed by a male. It was down to who was the best candidate on the day. Nothing was given to me as a favour. Can I coach and run a team? That should be all that mattered. I really didn’t get the fuss about the female lineswoman a few years ago. What has her gender got to do with her ability to run the line?’
She’s referring to the incident a few years back involving the female referees assistant, Sian Massey. Then Sky pundits Richard Keys and Andy Gray, were heard making less than favorable comments about her appointment, specifically after a key decision in the game. They’d thought she’d got the decision wrong. In fact, she’d been spot on.
‘Sex is irrelevant. What relevance does it have to understanding tactics, fitness, preparation, player development and medical issues? None of the understanding of these key facets of the game, require you to be male’
Undaunted by her appointment as Uxbridge College’s Head Coach, she immediately changed things around to the surprise of the skeptics, conditioned like many, to the idea that football wasn’t really for ‘girls’. Refusing to stroke egos, or take, into account previous reputations, many players found themselves dropped. Other than those that voluntarily chose to demote themselves to the reserves, rather than play for a female coach, more were ordered in the same direction. Decisions based not just on ability, but also attitude and application. Laura admitted feeling pressure to get things right. Having caused some issues, and completely changing the team’s tactics, the expectations of failure were there and real.
‘Was I under more pressure because I was female? Did the players initially respect me? I don’t know. However, 11 wins out of 11 games and a title/promotion in the Association of Colleges, English Colleges Football Association, London should have and did, allay any fears, concerns and pre-conceived thoughts about what I did, or didn’t know’.
Within a short space of time, she’d won the players over and turned the team around. Not because of any fear of confrontation, or making difficult decisions, she kept her distance from the team. It was simply her managerial approach. Where some Managers want to become the player’s best friends, and be fully involved in the dressing room, Laura utilized and used her Assistant Manager as a buffer/conduit for her thoughts and ideas to the players. All one-to-one player development is handled by the assistant, instructed and guided by her. The buck ultimately stops with her and everyone involved knows it.
Initial issues with her squad were not the only problems Laura had to deal with throughout the season. Often opposition coaches and players were less than welcoming to the ‘girl’ in the opposition dug-out. Heads always turned upon her arrival at away grounds. It was actually after being on the receiving end of some sexist comments from the Manager of an opposition team, that Laura realised she’d won her team over.
Her one regret about the incident was that she didn’t make an official complaint. Maybe not wanting to draw attention to her ‘difference’, she brushed it off. Possibly, as she’s done on many occasions previously, during her journey into the male world of football coaching and management. Football and banter go hand-in-hand. However, this marriage often masks cynical, derogatory and offensive comments, in some cases bordering on bullying. She’s not alone in ‘cracking on’ when maybe she shouldn’t. In the end, the college’s Sport Administrators reported the incident.
‘In hindsight, I let myself down. I have a responsibility to report things like this’
Reflections from a sharp mind that is thinking about the next generation of females, who may one day consider pathways from playing to coaching, as girls/women’s football continues to grow from strength to strength.
So, what of Laura’s Journey? Where did it all begin for this UEFA B licence coach who is about to embark on her A’ Licence. A qualification very few people outside the elite structures of the game get to acquire.
‘My mum had no interest in sport. It was my dad that started taking me to a boys’ team at the age of five. He coached a little and showed an interest in me football wise’
At age 13 Laura found herself playing at Rushden and Diamonds’ Academy but didn’t really enjoy the experience siting the Manager’s old school approach which focused on physicality. At 16 years old she was expected to make the jump into women’s adult football.
‘Physically, mentally, experience wise, I wasn’t ready. Nowhere near. It was way too soon and I didn’t stand a chance. Would never happen today. Now we have the WSL 2 (Women’s Soccer League) which is primarily U20. It’s a much slower progression into adult football’
Understandably, Laura fell out of football for a couple of years. She remembers training with the women’s first team aged 15 which helped her development but only slightly. She felt completely out of her depth, with nothing really being explained to her.
By 17, she was back involved, this time at her local club Bedford. A community club she remembers as being well structured and organised. She started to help the Manager running the younger teams and by this point, she’d acquired her level 1 and 2 coaching badges. On her level 2 course, she’d made some good friends and following Bedford, she was given an opportunity to coach at MK Don’s Centre of excellence. The position she got next, developed her immensely. An opportunity to work at the Beckham Academy in Greenwich, under the tutelage of Beckham’s global Academy Director and former Chelsea Academy Manager, Ted Dale, along with a superb coach, now in the higher echelons of West Ham’s development structure, Mark Newsome, helped Laura’s confidence, knowledge and experience blossom.
‘They were great leaders. At the Academy, I first started coaching men and refereeing men’s games. I learned so much in a year. It was very intimidating at first but I was well looked after at the Beckham Academy. Lots of people want you to come in and coach, but looking after you is a different matter. Players are looked after, but coaches? That’s where football can let itself down’
Laura could also draw on the support of Tessa Payne, who had worked at the FA for years and is now Technical Director at Arsenal. She had advised her to pick an age group and focus on it, but Laura soon realised she didn’t get the best out of young players. She thought she’d be best suited to 16+ girls. And here she is, her first full season, with an 11 and 0 record with a team of 16-18 year old difficult boys.
College Academy football is a strange beast. Rightly so, Laura sees it as a mix of managing expectations, ego’s and molding young men. Pillars you’d imagine would be universal in this area, but often not necessarily so. Managing the expectations of the young players in her charge, it's clear some no doubt have talent, or may even have flirted with elite developmental football previously as younger teenagers. However, few slip through the net cast by the myriad of scouts and development centres run, or associated with professional clubs, from across the football landscape. Meaning those that end up in College academies have a struggle getting into, or back into elite football. Often their opinions of themselves, don't match the reality of their ability.
But what of her expectations and personal targets? Does she dream to follow in the footsteps of Helena Costa, appointed by Clermont Foot to manage their men’s first team in France's League 2 in 2014, or indeed her replacement; Corinne Diacre, who remains their Manager to this day. This season they finished 12th.
Or what about Chan Yuen Ting, the 28 year female Manager who last year became the first ever female to win a top-flight title in men’s Professional football? In 2016, she guided Eastern to becoming Hong Kong’s Premier League champions.
‘I would actually like to return to women’s football but importantly stay in the UK. The lure to go over to the states is not what it once was. In fact players are now coming the other way – look at Carly Lloyd who’s recently arrived in the UK from the states, to play in the WSL for Manchester City’
The Women’s game in the UK is developing rapidly. With a Baroness (Sue Campbell) at the head of the Women’s football body, the game and those in charge of it, appear to be making all the right moves. Where the Women’s game in the US has been allowed to develop without the distraction and clutter of a men’s game traditionally, here the game has faced the complete opposite. Side-lined and derided until the last few years.
‘I see myself working in the WSL as a first team coach, however after my first season in the male game, there is definitely something about it’ Laura says confidently.
However, she said before she wanted to coach girls and ended up a winner with a Boys College Academy side. With that in mind, who knows where Laura’s football development, understanding of the game and undoubted ability may take her.
I’d say watch this space...